Power exudes a seductive aura, entices even the most reluctant to indulge in its use and exercise. History overflows with examples: militarists, politicians, industrialists, popes and monarchs. And personal lives are fraught with examples: controlling partners, demanding spouses, manipulative family members and insensitive bosses. That relentless exercise of power produces intended goals and unexpected consequences as well. The latter can include compromised values, tainted integrity, and broken trust. And yet, a secular world defines success as acquisition of power of some sort: financial, political, economic, emotional or psychological. In this scheme, there are victors and there are victims. But there are also outliers, those who choose not to participate in the process. History provides examples of those as well.
Medieval icons Francis and Clare fit right there. Over 800 years ago, they provided lifestyle models for the rejection of power. Francis’ narrative winds through his knighthood and business failures, his call at the foot of the San Damiano cross and then a life of simplicity and poverty. Joined by friends, bound by a love of poverty and simplicity, he found the reality of God in the experience of life and relationships rather than the acquisition of power.
Clare, intrigued by Francis’ teachings, found herself embracing that same poverty and simplicity. Like Francis, she sees the significance of personal relationships and actually pioneers a new form of communal lving for women. Their relationship was enhanced by their common bonds and by the recognition of the unique individualized spiritual experiences. Each carved daily space for prayer; each rejected power as it is was conventionally designed.
Power, it turned out, was not all about the materialism of a consumer society. Power was not about commanding armies or building factories. Instead, power was about finding the reality of God in the world. Centuries have passed, and there are still men and women who commit themselves to the rejection of power, the embrace of simplicity and the reality of poverty. There is a message there for all the rest of us, for the decades to come. Therein lies our hope.